The energy was high, and the joy was overflowing as World Youth Day pilgrims from the Diocese of Parramatta recommitted to creating community.
Gathering on Friday 15 September, the group of over 100 students, teachers and young adult pilgrims celebrated the extraordinary experience of the global Church at World Youth Day in Lisbon, Portugal, and reflected on the difference it has made in their lives.
“We developed a really strong bond over the three weeks of the pilgrimage, and I thank God for the pilgrimage we were able to have,” Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv, Bishop of Parramatta, told the group.
“It was a fantastic experience, and one of the best pilgrimages that I’ve had the honour to lead.
“I pray that it bears fruits for you in your lives, your families and your communities.”
Bringing WYD into the ordinary
To ground the reunion in faith, Mass was celebrated by pilgrimage chaplain Fr Andrew Rooney, who expressed how wonderful it was to see the pilgrims again.
Acknowledging the feast day of Our Lady of Sorrows, Fr Andrew emphasised that through our joys and sorrows, like Mary, we should remain steadfast at the foot of the cross.
“Coming down from the heights of World Youth Day and the wonderful pilgrimage that we had, we returned back to the ordinariness of life and along with that comes an element of sorrow, pain and daily challenges that we are now going to meet,” he said.
“We need to take the grace of God from those experiences, those transformative moments, those powerful moments with God and with our Church and bring them back into the ordinariness of our lives.
“These experiences are meant to support us and help us persevere. That even in our utter sorrow, we maintain our faith and our hope of all the promises to come.”
WYD pilgrims ‘transformed’ by experience
Pilgrims were then invited to share testimonials on how they have felt returning to their parish and school communities after World Youth Day and what changes they have seen in themselves.
One of our pilgrims, Anna, wasn’t prepared for the ‘emptiness’ she felt after the pilgrimage. But she was reminded God was not done with her. “He is always working, and we are always in the process of being transformed through His grace,” she said. “Just because we feel as though we didn’t have had an ‘a-ha’ moment, or we are questioning where God is during this time of change, it is not an excuse for us to be complacent with the mundane. He is working on you, with you and for you.”
Tony, another pilgrim, also recognised the ‘mundaneness’ of returning to his regular life. “Speaking with some of the pilgrims tonight, I recognised that I might have been leaving my World Youth Day experience over there, and I need to bring it over here and apply it to my everyday life and be open to sharing my faith with others and build new relationships.”
Steph, a teacher, was overcome with emotion in describing how grateful she was to have been able to go on pilgrimage and that the feeling she had of not being worthy enough to go has disappeared. “I feel that I’m saying ‘yes’ to God a lot more now and I’ve been able to appreciate every single person that I meet, because every person is a child of God.”
Emotional, spiritual growth of pilgrims pre- and post-WYD
On returning home, pilgrims were invited to complete a survey on their experiences and spiritual growth. Some statistics included:
- 84% of surveyed pilgrims answered ‘often’ or ‘always’ to feeling connected to the Global Catholic Church.
- 95% answered ‘often’ or ‘always’ to feeling valued in the Catholic community.
- 71% answered ‘often’ or ‘always’ to spending time in silence with God.
- 90% of pilgrims would consider attending a World Youth Day pilgrimage again, with 55% indicating they were ‘very likely’ to attend.
Lourdes was named as the most significant location which, according to James Camden, pilgrimage coordinator, showed the importance of the pre-pilgrimage prior to World Youth Day week.
“A moment on pilgrimage that had significant impact on me was the Eucharistic procession at Lourdes. The community, the prayer, the candles. Everything made me feel so accepted and happy to be a part of this international community and made me fall even more in love with my faith,” one pilgrim wrote.
“Lourdes was a particularly moving place for me. I found it very peaceful and reflective and was able to really challenge myself in my prayer life in Lourdes, which set the tone for my prayer life for the rest of the pilgrimage and my journey once home,” another pilgrim said.
View images from the one-month reunion here or below: